JEFFERSON CITY — Three more members of Missouri's congressional delegation Wednesday signaled their opposition to possible military base closures or realignments in the state, moves that are being considered as the federal government looks for ways to save more money.
Speaking at the Missouri Capitol, Republican U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler told a crowd of businesspeople, state and local officials and former military personnel that programs at Whiteman Air Force Base and Fort Leonard Wood are too important for military planners to consider either for cutbacks or closures.
"We believe that national defense is one of the few things that Congress should be supporting," said Hartzler, who has called for cuts in overall federal government spending. "We prioritize national defense and believe that the other parts of the budget need to be looked at as well."
Hartzler, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the government would actually have to spend more money to close bases in the state and that any savings would only be seen over the long term.
Hartzler's western Missouri district encompasses both of the state's biggest military installations. The freshman congresswoman was joined at the state Capitol by fellow Republican U.S. Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer and Todd Akin, who is running for U.S. Senate this year.
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill has also voiced strong opposition to any base cuts.
Base closures are decided by the military-run Base Realignment and Closure Commission, or BRAC. Congress can vote down BRAC recommendations by resolution but doesn't have a direct hand in which bases are slated for closure or reduction.
There have been five rounds of BRAC closures since the late 1980s. The most recent was in 2005, when an Air National Guard unit in St. Louis was closed and staff was reduced at military offices in St. Louis and Kansas City.
The memory of those cutbacks, which cost Missouri about 3,000 jobs, weighed heavily on Wednesday's meeting, even though BRAC cuts appear unlikely within the next year.
Then-Gov. Matt Blunt was criticized for closing the state's lobbying office in Washington and leaving it to the state's congressional delegation to advocate for the bases. The state sued the federal government to stop the base cuts but was unsuccessful.
Missouri doesn't have a lobbying office in the nation's capital, but it has an agency within its Department of Economic Development that advocates for the military bases.
The U.S. Department of Defense has been pressed to cut its budget by President Barack Obama and by a compromise Congress passed last summer to raise the federal debt ceiling.
To make those cuts, the Defense Department recently submitted to Congress a budget that requests authority to do base closures and realignments in 2013 and 2015.
At a Senate hearing in Washington last month, Undersecretary of Defense Dorothy Robyn said base closures are needed as the U.S. draws down operations in Iraq and elsewhere overseas.
"The math is straightforward," she said. "Force reductions produce excess capacity; excess capacity is a drain on resources."
It was at that hearing that McCaskill, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, voiced her opposition, saying there is "absolutely no room for compromise" on the issue.
Hartzler acknowledged Wednesday that means base closures aren't likely to happen next year but that they could in the future.
"There is a possibility," she said. "If it should happen, I think we need to be positioned, we need to be ready, and we need to be proactive."